* Usher, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kelly Clarkson perform
* Artist of the year still to come
By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and country-pop darling Taylor Swift were among the early winners at the American Music Awards on Sunday, picking up accolades in the pop and country categories at a live televised awards ceremony.
Bieber, 18, picked up the award for favorite pop/rock male artist, beating out stiff competition from Flo Rida, Pitbull and Usher. The star walked the red carpet with his mother, Pattie Mallette, after his widely reported split from former Disney star and girlfriend Selena Gomez.
“This is for all the haters who thought that maybe I was just here for one or two years, but I feel like I am going to be here for a very long time,” Bieber said on stage, dedicating his win to his mother.
Swift, 22, scored the favorite female country artist award, edging out Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. She thanked her fans in her acceptance speech, saying, “I‘m really, really happy right now and that’s all because of you.”
Nicki Minaj picked up the award for favorite rap/hip hop album of the year, with “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded,” over nominees Drake and newcomer rapper J. Cole.
The American Music Award nominees and winners are voted for by fans online, and the awards are handed out during a live three-hour broadcast featuring performances by artists.
R&B star Usher kicked off the night with an electric performance on a laser-filled stage, followed by Carly Rae Jepsen singing hits including “Call Me Maybe,” while boy band The Wanted, who are up for favorite pop/rock group, donned suits to sing their latest, “I Found You.”
Former “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson belted out a medley of her tracks including “Miss Independent” and “What Doesn’t Kill You,” and pop singer Ke$ha hit the stage in a tribal-themed performance of her latest single “Die Young.”
The awards show, which marks its 40th anniversary this year, treated the audience to some of its greatest moments, including R&B star Beyonce performing “Single Ladies” at the 2008 show and a clip of Michael and Janet Jackson as children accepting an award in 1975.
R&B star Rihanna, 24, and rapper Nicki Minaj, 29, went into Sunday’s show leading with four nods each, battling each other in the favorite pop/rock female artist category.
Rihanna will also face stiff competition from Bieber, Maroon 5, Drake and Katy Perry for the night’s top prize, the coveted artist of the year.
Rihanna wasn’t expected to be at the awards show on Sunday, as she is in Berlin, midway through a seven-day tour across seven cities around the world promoting her upcoming “Unapologetic” album.
The race for new artist of the year will also be tight, as newcomers One Direction, Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, indie-pop band fun. and rapper J. Cole will compete for the accolade.
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Christine Kearney and Philip Barbara